Moving Past the Loss of MH370

By Robert Mark on January 17th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Malaysian Boeing 777 – @jetwhine

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There’s no small amount of irony in today’s announcement that the search for MH370 has officially been called off nearly three years after that Boeing 777 disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lampur to Beijing and the accolades being shared at Aireon HQ in McLean Virginia over Saturday’s successful orbiting of 10 Iridium satellites needed to begin creating the first global aircraft tracking network.

SpaceX Iridium launch @jetwhine

The idea of knowing exactly where on earth the airplanes we purchase tickets on are actually located at any given point in time is a no-brainer conceptually. In fact, if you tell international travelers that while over the ocean or in remote areas of the planet, their airline has only the tiniest notion of their airplanes precise location, they’re shocked. The airlines essentially know where their aircraft should be, but as we’ve seen with the loss of MH370, the words “should” and “are” translate into two very different views of the aviation world.

So thank goodness for Aireon’s foresightedness back in 2011 to begin the effort to create the network that’s expected to be operational by summer 2018.

And no thank you at all to most of the airlines around the world that have not lifted one finger to improve the tracking of their airplanes since the loss of MH370. Sure there have been meetings and proclamations and opportunities through companies like Inmarsat and FLYHT, and certainly ICAO jumped in to the discussions, but not many airlines actually signed up to use any of the tracking technologies.

The reason was simple, money … the airlines couldn’t justify the cost to their shareholders. But let’s be patient and not forget that the poor airlines must make money to stay in business.

I guess some of traveling bumpkins are still naive enough though, to think that the airlines that are all too happy to grab our money, might also be thinking that looking after us a bit more when we’re their prisoner, sorry, I mean guest, might actually turn into a little value added service.

Rob Mark, Publisher

Deciding Aviation Into an Uncertain Future

By Scott Spangler on January 4th, 2017 | Comments Off on Deciding Aviation Into an Uncertain Future

Happy New Year!

As it has been for millennia, the year ahead is a blank diary in which we will write history with our daily decisions. What direction this uncertain future will take depends on how we make those decisions, especially those with zero-sum consequences, where one side gains at the expense of another. Ultimately, the decisions we make, support, and share will determine the future of aviation and the world in which is it exists.

Making decisions based on our gut, decisions that serve only our personal interests and ideology, rather than a logical assessment of the “facts” involved in the issue will have critical consequences. This is especially true for aviation, which is struggling to find its footing in the 21 century. Based on past ideas, such as the attempt to privatize air traffic control, 2017 will surely be a defining waypoint in aviation history.

To different degrees, everyone involved in civil, commercial, and military aviation communities make decisions that will shape their individual and collective futures. From the cockpit to the control tower, those answers decide the winner, short-term benefits to a few or long-term benefits to the industry as a whole.

As it does at an operational level, making informed decisions will span the gap of uncertainty, but making them requires research and effort, as well as an understanding that information and knowledge are not the same thing. Information is data. Knowledge is the accumulation of information and how it all relates to the question at hand. Only then can we acquire the wisdom needed to make a decision.

In this effort we must be pragmatic, concerned with actual practice, not theory, conspiracy, or speculation. And we must be skeptical, which is to say we must not be easily persuaded or convinced. We must doubt every source of information and ask questions when data from different sources does not add up. Regardless the source, question its authority.

Finally, we must be cynical. In any zero-sum situation, where someone gains because the opposing side loses, the cynic knows that the people involved are motivated only by their selfishness. Naturally, in the post-truth world, this reality is buried in echo-chamber propaganda.

For example, if ATC goes private, and is funded with user fees, who will ultimately pay those fees? And what happens to the airline ticket and GA fuel tax system that’s been funding America’s aviation infrastructure for decades?

Be aware of each decision made in 2017, because it will tacitly reveal our true motivations and hopes for tomorrow. –  Scott Spangler, Editor

Airport Archeology & Airport Infrastructure

By Scott Spangler on December 19th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

Day25-8On the cool, gray morning I parked before the terminal at the Alliance Municipal Airport (AIA) in northwestern Nebraska, I didn’t expect my airport archeology effort to be a lesson about the airport infrastructure that serves the nation today.

The layout of the airport’s three runways suggested that it started life as an Army airfield built during World War II. There were remaining signs—four brick chimneys standing at the head of concrete foundations—that confirmed this, but they didn’t register until later. Getting ready to put the quiet airport behind me, a TSA agent, on his way to empty a terminal trash can, asked if he could help me.

Day25-4After explaining my aviation geek-quest, he said the airport started life as the Alliance Army Airfield. Pointing to the evenly spaced pillars of brick, he said the hangar chimneys were all that remained. “They trained glider pilots, paratroops, and airborne infantry here,” said the blue-shirted man. “If you’re curious, there’s a display inside that tells all about it.”

Alliance was one of 11 airfields the Army built across the state of Nebraska during World War II. Nebraska’s weather allowed for year-round flying, and it’s sparse, dispersed population made for wide open spaces, perfect for bombing, gunnery, and other training ranges.

Selecting the site in spring 1942, 5,000 construction workers nearly doubled the population of Alliance in July 1942. When they finished work in August 1943, they’d built 775 buildings and four 9,000-foot runways,  long enough for C-47s to tow CG-4 gliders, full of airborne infantry, into the Nebraska sky.

Day25-12After the glider troops left for their debut at D-Day, Alliance was a B-29 training base for awhile. It was declared surplus in 1945, and most of the buildings were sold at auction. And this is where the story gets interesting, as my later research into the airport revealed.

Of the 11 airfields the Army built more than 70 years ago, nine of them play an integral role in the national and state airport infrastructure. Six of them are municipal airports: Ainsworth, Alliance, Grand Island, Kearney, Lincoln, and Scottsbluff. Three are public airports, Fairmont, Harvard, and Scribner. (What is now Omaha’s Offutt Air Force Base was built before the war began.)

ne apThe National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) counts 72 airports in Nebraska. These airfield veterans represent all but one of Nebraska’s five commercial service, primary airports. Alliance is one of three airports with scheduled passenger essential air service. All the rest are public-use fields.

To give context to this contribution to the national airport infrastructure, imagine how we’d meet a similar need for training today. How much of it would be digitally simulated by civilian contractors at top dollar fees? And if we needed to build anything, whether it floats, flies, or is a home to anything that does, how long would it take, considering todays military-industrial corporate bureaucracy and political environment? Maybe we all owe the Greatest Generation a debt of gratitude more nuanced than giving them a casual thanks for their service. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Would You Like To Fly?

By Robert Mark on December 12th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

Dear Readers: One of the high points in my life this year at Oshkosh, was meeting Jen Adams, an aviation enthusiast I’ve come to know rather well. She’s not a pilot, but rather a person who found gainful employment at an airport and realized she was and continues to be fascinated by what she found there. This is her first story for Jetwhine. Both Scott and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Rob Mark


Would You Like To Fly?

By Jennifer Adams

As a female aviation enthusiast, I want to do my part to encourage a passion for aviation in the next generation, especially girls. To that end, I’ve taken my teenage daughter and her friends on several aviation-related excursions to museums, airports and even an air show. While they always managed to have fun, their interest in aviation remained decidedly lukewarm. I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed – I was hoping for a little more enthusiasm. But I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least I had tried.

jetwhine-comThen one day my daughter overheard me talking about a friend who had gone on a biplane ride the previous weekend. Her response surprised me: “Awww – that sounds so cool!” Wait… what did she just say? So I asked, “Would you be interested in doing a Young Eagles flight to learn more about being a pilot?” Her response was an immediate and emphatic “Yes!” No maybes or requests to think about it. No hesitation at all. I was both elated and a bit dumbfounded. So she IS interested in aviation! But… I didn’t think she was. How could I have been so wrong?

My first mistake was expecting my daughter to like aviation the same way I do. I can sit around and watch airplanes all day. She can’t. She’s not much of a watcher – she’s more of a doer. I should have realized this, but I didn’t.

My second mistake is almost embarrassing to admit because it involves stereotypes. My daughter is an artist and an actress, a dreamer who likes to write short stories. Somehow I allowed myself to believe that these qualities are incompatible with an interest in flying. This is completely wrong and I know it. I have several friends who are commercial pilots who are also involved in the arts. How on earth did I make this mistake with my daughter? Is it because she’s a girl? I’m sad to say… possibly.

My third mistake was expecting my daughter to say something. I figured that if she wanted to try flying she would tell me. But then again she IS a teenager and they aren’t always very communicative, especially with their parents.

Before I beat myself up too much I should point out that I did do at least one thing right: I didn’t give up. In the end I was able to toss aside what I thought I knew about my daughter’s level of interest and simply ask the question: Would you like to fly? It makes me wonder – how many other girls would say yes if only someone would think to ask?jen

Jennifer Adams blends her passion for aviation with her profession of accounting by working for a medium-sized airport in the Midwest. When she isn’t calculating landing fees, she’s keeping an eye on the airplanes outside the window and blogging about her adventures at

Flying Models & Aviation’s Next Generation

By Scott Spangler on December 7th, 2016 | Comments Off on Flying Models & Aviation’s Next Generation

CL-1If puzzled by present options for your descendants’ Christmas morning surprises, might I suggest a flying model. Regardless of their age, it may instill a lasting interest in aviation and teach them how to figure things out as they mature, if you’re there to guide them with focused questions.

The example given here are from my childhood and my continued hands-on model flying with my sons, and now, with my grandsons. (I’d include daughters and granddaughters if the Spanglers had any.) The key is to be hands on, and for the recipient of aviation’s gift to figure things out for themselves and, later, to repair the consequences of their learning experiences.

It starts with the ubiquitous balsa glider, often available free at aviation trade shows as marketing giveaways. The joy of finally configuring it for a long, steady glide is ageless, but the lessons can start when you’re halfway to 10. Every flight is a learning experience. When a flight comes to an unhappy end, ask the pilot why that might be. What pieces of the glider are missing, broken, or misaligned?

CL-2Questions are the key to building interest, curiosity, and problem-solving skills. If that glider moves through the air, what do you think the fins on its tail end do? Why is the slot for the wing longer than the wing’s chord. What do you think happens if you move the wing forward or back? Let’s try it and find out.

When these glider pilots reach their first decade, it’s time to add some power. Half-A, or .O49, is a good place to start. Stifle your personal remote control (R/C) technological wants and desires and go control line (CL). The important lesson here is that pilots can see their connection to the airplane they control. They can see the lines that run from the handle in their fist to the bell crank and pushrod that controls the model’s elevator.

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Seeing the Future of Aviation in the Past

By Scott Spangler on November 21st, 2016 | 4 Comments »


With its back to the coastal mountains of Oregon, the world’s largest free span wooden hangar sleeps like a giant on green grass under a rusty blanket of tin. Known as NAS Tillamook Hangar B, it is the sole survivor of the 17 wooden hangars the U.S. Navy built on the West Coast in 1942 to protect K-class blimps when they weren’t flying anti-submarine missions. On closer reflection, its past suggested the future of aviation.

Its alphabetical predecessor, Hangar A, was built second, in 27 working days, in 1943. What makes this feat remarkable is the hangar’s size: 1,072 feet long, 296 feet wide, and 192 feet high. It covers more than seven acres, and each hangar held up to a half-dozen K-ships, which were 252 feet long and 80 feet in diameter. At each end, concrete stanchions support the 120-foot-high six-section doors that moved on railroad tracks to a 220-foot wide yawn.

The stanchions and the concrete footers for the wooden arches that supported the tarpaper and tin roofed structure are all that remain of Hangar A. It burned in 1992. To offset some of hangar’s $20,000 monthly upkeep, it rented some of its seven acres as storage, and it was 7,600 tons of straw awaiting shipment to Japan that caught fire. The straw, worth about $200,000, was insured. The hangar, owned by the Port of Tillamook Bay, was not.

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Casper: Airport Appreciation Past & Present

By Scott Spangler on November 7th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Day24-30Working my way home on US 20, about 10 miles outside of Casper, Wyoming, I approached the entrance to the Natrona County International Airport. For a moment I debated making the left turn because nearly all of the airports I’d visited in the preceding several weeks were deserted, with few signs of aeronautical life. And those small town airports that advertised their empty hangars for rent as storage units were downright depressing. Still, to the side of the drive was a sign that looked like a historical plaque, so I turned. My reward was unexpected.

casperab2The history sign said the Casper Army Air Base was one of many military fields built after America’s entry into World War II. Crews started building the base, with its four mile-long runways and 400 buildings, in April 1942. The first airplane landed and commenced training operations five months later, in September 1942, Call me seriously gob smacked. Is it “progress” that there is no way either military or civilian leaders and workers of today could duplicate this feat today?

Given the decades that had passed since the war’s end and the airport’s transfer to Cody and Natrona County, I honestly did not expect to see any of those 400 buildings. And then there was an adjacent sign listed the airport’s tenants. A mix of aviation and nonaviation businesses, they ranged from FedEx, Atlantic Aviation, and the Casper College of Aviation to Conway trucking. Still, it was warm and sunny and worth a ride down the drive to put my nose through the airport operation area fence.

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Curiosity Quest: The FAA Cargo Focus Team

By Scott Spangler on October 24th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Image result for air cargo

To keep up with the FAA, I subscribe to the news feeds for most of its branches. The other day, the Flight Standards Service (AFS) sent me notice of a draft policy document, and its subject, updated air cargo definitions and abbreviations caught my attention. In aviation, abbreviations and acronyms seem to breed exponentially,  so keeping up is worth my time. I found a subject way more interesting than I expected.

The changed definition and abbreviations support the air safety initiative on air cargo operations under Part 91K. 121. 125. 135. and Letter of Deviation Authority (LODA). Addressing the background before introducing the changes, the notices said, “ The FAA’s Cargo Focus Team (CFT), created following an aircraft accident in Bagram, Afghanistan, determined that OpSpecs A196, Air Cargo Operations, and A396, Special Cargo Operations, provide the best process for management of cargo operations.”

Image result for air cargoWhat, I wondered, is the Cargo Focus Team? A search of the FAA website revealed no page dedicated to the CFT. The closest I got was a list of responsibilities of AFS-330, the FAA’s Air Carrier Maintenance Branch. The CFT was well down on the long list that included corrosion prevention and control programs; oversight of safety and education plans about aging aircraft; and developing and standardizing regs and national guidance on maintenance for Part 91K, 119, 121, 125, 135, and 136.

With that lead unsatisfying my curiosity, I started over with the accident, mentioned in the note, that led to the accident at Bagram Air Base. In the grand scheme of aviation excitement, air cargo may often seem mundane, except maybe when a Boeing 747-400 freighter is loaded with five mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles that, all together, weigh 78 tons and the aft-most 12-ton MRAP ATV breaks free of its tie downs on takeoff and damages the hydraulic systems that control the 747’s horizontal stabilizers.

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Overwhelmed at Planes of Fame Air Museum

By Scott Spangler on October 10th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Day10-45There is no other way to put it. The Planes of Fame Air Museum overwhelmed me. Drowning in the aviation history it showcases, and the aviation provenance of the airport in Chino, California, where it presents it, I don’t know where to start this piece.

So let me start with the smell. Because many of the airplanes in the museum’s collection still fly, its hangars, airplane locker rooms, have the redolent fragrance of airplane sweat. It is a lingering bouquet of hot oil cooling, the sweet scent of hydraulic fluid playing against the acrid pepper of rubbed raw rubber after it meets the runway.

Day10-14It is a good smell, one worth breathing deeply at every turn because many of the wingspan entryways were open. It’s much better than the traditional climate-controlled museum atmosphere of stale, recirculated  HVAC air tinged with dust and the whiff of commercial floor wax. And on this August Tuesday morning, stopping on our Route 66 way to Santa Monica, my riding partner (who’s also a pilot) and I pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Most of the airplanes on display were parked, not presented in some curated full-scale diorama. Instead the maintenance was real. Where else would you see a rare razorback P-47 Thunderbolt with its engine bared and rectangular black plastic drip pans catching the effluent from nose to (almost) tail?

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Don’t Let Santa Monica Airport Become Another Meigs Field

By Robert Mark on October 6th, 2016 | 23 Comments »

Don’t Let Santa Monica Airport Become Another Meigs Field

In the pre-dawn darkness of March 31, 2003, former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s wrecking crews laid siege to Meigs Field, a single 3900-foot runway airport on the western shore of Lake Michigan near the city’s downtown. As the sun rose that morning, the damage became clear, large “Xs” had been carved into the runway by city backhoes. Meigs Field was no more.

An atmosphere of outrage quickly spread throughout the industry for the loss of the little airport, a place made famous around the world when it was chosen as the opening screen for Microsoft’s popular Flight Simulator software.

The AOPA’s president at the time, Phil Boyer said, “”We are absolutely shocked and dismayed. Mayor Daley has no honor and his word has no value. The sneaky way he did this shows that he knows it was wrong.” There was no advance warning of the city’s move, not even to the FAA.

typhoonA Typhoon Passes

Yesterday, Pia Bergqvist shared a post on Facebook that detailed the shutdown of Santa Monica airport’s icon restaurant, the Typhoon, a place that’s been a fixture at SMO for 25 years. The restaurant’s closure simply highlights the latest of the dirty tactics the Santa Monica’s City Council is using to destroy the airport located just north of LAX, a place many in local government have come to think of as an obstacle to urban progress, not to mention a safety hazard.

In order to drive businesses like this from Santa Monica airport, the city nearly tripled the Typhoon’s rent. Other long time tenants like Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers already received eviction notices, with American Flyers filing a Part 16 complaint with the FAA along the way.

What makes the mess at SMO different from what we experienced here in Chicago 13 years ago, is that this time the FAA knows perfectly well what’s happening. The question is whether they’ll take any real non-paperwork action before SMO’s runway’s also destroyed.

The folks at the restaurant explained the city’s squeeze job pretty accurately. “In some quarters, this sort of activity would be seen as a deplorable abuse of municipal power, but in Santa Monica, it is becoming business-as-usual. It’s just too exhausting and disheartening to continue to throw good money after bad into this never ending shell-game of political brinksmanship.”

In a final farewell, the folks that run the Typhoon plan to keep the place open until just after the presidential election November 8. Read the rest of this entry »